The Living Atlases Community


 The open-source software infrastructure initially developed by the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) is now a critical component of GBIF’s international network. The adoption of this system by numerous GBIF national nodes has produced a connected infrastructure enabling researchers and other users of biodiversity information to find, access, combine and visualize biodiversity data. In the process, this effort has demonstrated how international collaboration can focus and improve data delivery and access, spread technological costs and risks, and adapt to varied settings and contexts. The open source, modular composition makes it accessible to a wide range of user needs and a global community of developers and users is evolving.

Map showing countries with installations or interest in the ALA infrastructure, as of 30 January 2019. Courtesy of Katia Cezón, GBIF Spain.

When it launched in 2010, the ALA became one of the first sites to aggregate existing national biodiversity data in one place, and the underlying infrastructure sought to address one country’s need for improved data services and access. This comprehensive biodiversity data management system is now a world-class research tool. It helps Australian researchers respond rapidly to new discoveries, enables decision-makers to base planning and policy decisions on the best available data and feeds national data directly into GBIF’s international data index.
By 2013, its capacity for managing, analyzing and visualizing biodiversity data had started to catch the eye of other GBIF Participants. In February 2014, the GBIF Secretariat and ALA invited external review of these tools to evaluate the possibility of adopting a streamlined core version to establish other biodiversity data portals. The effort to simplify, share and reuse this technology aimed to reduce development costs for GBIF’s nodes and expand capacity across the network through technology transfer and knowledge exchange. This open-source platform offers a modular architecture enabling reuse of its tools in other countries and regions. ALA software is now installed and running in numerous countries and has become central to both informal and formal collaborations between many of GBIF’s Participants.

Since 2013, the community around this tool, the Living Atlases community has organized technical workshops to present ALA modules to other institutions that want to implement it, to improve already existing national data portals and to learn from each other’s achievements.

Data, standards and licensing

The Living Atlas software is designed around species names, taxonomy, occurrence based data and related data types. Future work will address supporting other relevant data types, and exploring more effective ways to spatially and temporally represent different data types (presence/absence etc.). The ALA infrastructure applies international data standards as much as possible and wherever appropriate. These include Darwin Core (DwC), Darwin Core Archive (DwC-A), Dublin Core, ISO, OGC, and others. All components of the Living Atlas are open-source software. This minimizes running and licensing costs and avoids potential complications with intellectual property rights.

International ALA-based Living Atlases: